Foreign workers with H-2B visas are qualified for positions in hospitality, maintenance, retail, warehouses, theme parks, landscaping and security.
"Sec. Kelly's decision to increase H-2B foreign workers threatens to reverse the trend of reports emerging around the country of employers working harder and raising pay to successfully recruit more unemployed Americans for lower-skilled jobs", said Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, an organization that advocates for reduced immigration.
The H-2B program now has an annual cap of 66,000 visas and a maximum of 33,000 visas are available during the first half of the fiscal year and then the remainder and any unused H-2B visas become available from April 1 through September. The cap has already been reached this year. Businesses hit the cap in March, and in May, Congress gave Kelly authority to increase the limit up to 70,000.
"We're talking about American businesses that are at risk of suffering irreparable harm if they don't get additional H-2B workers", the DHS official told the newspaper.
He said the additional visas were a "one-time extension" of the visa cap set by Congress. Farm workers enter the US under a different visa, known as the H-2A. USCIS will stop accepting petitions after September 15 or after the cap is reached, whichever occurs first. The program normally allows for 66,000 visas, split between the two halves of the year.
The visas are for workers taking seasonal jobs in the seafood, tourism and other industries - but not farm laborers. "We're asking these businesses to attest that if they do not get additional workers they will be harmed, so this does help with American businesses continuing to prosper".
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The H-2B program previously drew strong bipartisan support because lawmakers have a vested interest in supporting their home state industries - whether it's crab-picking in Maryland, ski resorts in Colorado or logging in Washington.
But there's been an outcry from employers in those industries saying they can't find enough workers right now, as they've been squeezed by a dearth of visas and the low unemployment rate. Dick Durbin issued a statement, "A growing body of evidence shows that our increasing reliance on the H-2B visa program hurts wages for American workers".
But Congress did not renew the returnees exemption when it expired last fall, effectively curbing the number of available visas.
Mar-a-Lago's 64 workers on H-2B visas come primarily from Haiti and Romania.
Criticism from Congress was bipartisan in nature, exemplified by a joint reproach from Iowa's Senator Chuck Grassley (R) and Senator Dick Durbin (D) of IL.
Senior DHS officials said on a call with reporters that the move still satisfied Trump's "America First" agenda.